Here are six teams to watch this coming season (and the reason why):
Clinch County (Life after Jim Dickerson): For the first time since 2003, someone other than Jim Dickerson will be roaming the sidelines for the Panthers. Jim Dickerson, a 1981 Clinch County graduate and former Panther defensive lineman, stepped down in January after leading Clinch to a second consecutive public state title, the program’s fifth under Dickerson’s watch. He compiled an overall record of 152-44-1 in 15 seasons. Dickerson’s replacement is Don Tilson, Jr., the son of the man he played for at Clinch. Along with replacing Dickerson, the Panthers will be without Player of the Year LB Trezmon Marshall (UGA), all-state lineman CJ Gwynn and all-state RB/DB Dantonio Robinson (LaGrange College). Clinch will look to a strong class of rising seniors, which includes 6-7 Florida commit WR Jeremiah Johnson and RB/LB Darius Dorsey, and all-state rising junior QB/DB Tyler Morehead, to lead the way to a three-peat.
Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (Life after Brayden Rush): All QB Brayden Rush did was lead ELCA to a 41-1 record during his three seasons as a starter, with three consecutive state titles. Even though he was winning games, Charger head coach Jonathan Gess said he and Rush had a “come to Jesus meeting” before Rush’s senior season. “We just wanted him and needed him to be a better leader,” Gess said, “and he did that.” As ELCA goes after its fifth consecutive state title this season, rising junior Philip Massengale (6-1, 190), looks to fill Rush’s big shoes.
Landmark Christian (Rebounding from 2-18 the last two seasons): Former NCAA All-American and NFL receiver Mike Sherrard has been given the task of returning what had been one of the state’s most consistently successful programs to the level of respectability. The last two seasons, the War Eagles went 2-18, including 0-10 in 2017, under then-head coach Wayne Brantley, now the offensive coordinator at Calvary Day in Savannah. That season was the beginning of the slide, as Landmark finished 10-2 in 2016. But Brantley lost a total of 18 starters and contributors the next year – six transferred for non-athletic reasons, six left the program to concentrate on baseball and six suffered season-ending or season-limiting injuries. After Joe Scott led the team to just two wins last season, it’s up to Sherrard, who has coached at several highly successful private schools in California, including famed Oaks Christian, to get the program back on track.
Pelham (Looking to take the next step): Led by 6-4, 210-pound rising senior QB Kendrick Patterson, the Hornets appear to be ready to become one of the most dynamic programs in all of Class A. Pelham went 12-1 last season and won its second region title in three seasons, averaging just under 50 points per game. Patterson is joined by a deep and talented rising senior class that includes WR/DB Jordan Bennett and two-way linemen Dallas Washington and Jaylan Smoak, along with rising junior DE Davion Rhodes.
Prince Avenue Christian/Athens Academy (Heavily dependent upon two players): Prince Avenue and Athens Academy not only compete in the same league, Region 8-Division A, they are in the same situation. Both are coming off of stellar seasons, but lost a lot of talent to graduation. And both have Player of the Year candidates back to lead the way. For Prince Avenue, it’s rising junior QB Brock Vandagriff. The 6-4, 220-pounder’s Twitter feed of offers reads like a who’s-who of college football’s elite (UGA, Alabama, Oklahoma) and even the not-so-elite (Kansas, Duke). He led the Wolverines in rushing (1001 yards) and accounted for more than 50 touchdowns (23 rushing, 28 passing). But his top three receivers graduated, taking with them more than 2,500 yards and 27 TDs. For Athens Academy it’s 6-3, 220-pound rising senior RB/LB Len’Neth Whitehead, who led the Spartans to the private title game with the help of a number of talented seniors. Whitehead is currently listed as the state’s No. 22 player by 247Sports. Athens Academy won two matchups last season – 31-27 in the regular season and 24-21 in the state semifinals.
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